Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

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Luke records in his record of the Acts of the Apostles that after Pentecost, ‘Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church. They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.’

Let’s  join in a word of  prayer:   Loving God, our Father, today, we join with believers around the world to devote ourselves to hearing your Word, to fellowship with each other, to praying, and to sharing in the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we worship You, guide our time that we may understand the reality that your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has shown us great forgiveness and acceptance.  Help us to show great love for one another, and acceptance of others. God our Father, hear our prayer we offer in the name of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The new disciples who heard Peter’s message on Pentecost, devoted themselves to relating to God in a new way.  As people in a new very personal relationship with their creator, their saviour and their comforter.  As people who are forgiven.

Peter instructed them to repent over their sinfulness and to be baptised as a sign of their new life in Jesus Christ.  These were the first converts to the new Christian Church.  Their lives were changed forever.  They began to live up to their Christian challenge.  They became God’s family of the Church.  They cared for each other, they shared with each other, they praised God for Jesus Christ and for each other.  What a time of rejoicing it must have been.  They lived the experience of their forgiveness.

We join them today, caring for each other, sharing salvation and new life with each other, praising God for each other, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper with each other.  What a time of rejoicing it is for us today.  We can live the joy of our salvation every day. …. And yet, we still live in the brokenness of our humanity.

If we paraphrase Paul’s words to us today:  “every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are announcing the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes again.”  A death that redeems our sins, and a resurrection that brings our eternal life.  All this by our faith in the Son whom God has sent.

As Christians, we are reminded that we hold two truths in tension.  In these truths the mystery of God’s grace is revealed in the reality of his love for us set against the reality of his hatred of sin.

On the one hand we have the truth that sin enters our lives as the fruit of a wrong relationship with God.   God takes the damage we do to each other very seriously.

But on the other hand lies the truth that we are all forgiven our sins at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus  entered humanity to reconcile us to God and repair the damage of our broken relationship with God.

As we hold the Scriptures in our hands and in our hearts we hold onto the understanding that this is God’s message to us about his love for us.  His relationship with all of creation, and especially with each one of us.

As we discover in the Scriptures, when Jesus Christ took the bread and the cup of his Supper, he gave us a living reality.  That God’s relationship with us is lived out in the very personal and very real presence of Christ Jesus in our lives.

“This is my body”, and “This is my blood” were not words of a parable.  They were not words of a presumed hope.  They were words of truth and life.

The Augsburg Confession, Artlcle 10, states:  ‘Concerning the Lord’s Supper, it is taught that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there.’

That is why we take the Lord’s Supper so seriously.  Seriously enough to take a few weeks to prepare our youngsters to join us at the table of our Lord.  This preparation is purposeful to ingrain the reality of our relationship with God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit.

When we hear the words to eat and drink the elements of bread and wine, we join this to the act of eating and drinking, with the faith we have in our Saviour.  And they become the real presence of the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ, just as he said.

As the Large Catechism explains:  ‘everyone who wishes to be a Christian and to go to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should know .. what they seek and why they come.’

In our Step Up To Communion preparation process, we look at the five steps of the Lord’s Supper.  The Invitation of our Lord,  our acceptance of this invitation, our gathering together, our eating and drinking, and our giving thanks to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for this wondrous gift.

In Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit is present as well. He reminds us that we are receiving forgiveness of sin and renewal from Christ Jesus every time we share the Lord’s Supper.  He also reminds us that we compound our error when we hold onto our guilt over every wrong, and every unforgiveness of wrong done to us, as we rise from the table.    We can trust  Jesus when he says, “for the forgiveness of sin”, and we can have faith in our Saviour.  Let the past remain in our past, and look to every future moment with confidence and peace at heart.

As Lutherans, we respect the thoughtful and spiritual dialogue of Martin Luther.  He was caught in the middle of the dialogue between the strict understanding of Holy Communion by the Church at Rome, and the radical reform movement to distance from that established Church of the day.  But Luther, as always, turned to the Gospels with faith-filled vision of Christ’s words, and his intentions.

‘The Lord’s Supper was very important to Luther his entire life, because God’s promises and the bond with Christ became concrete for him in the bread and wine. Just as it can become for us.  In a sermon about the right use of the Lord’s Supper, from 1518, Luther says that “needing the Lord’s Supper is the most important condition of receiving it”.

Luther believed that Christ was bodily present in Holy Communion, trusting in the words of Matthew 26: 26 and 28: ‘This is My body’ and ‘this is My blood’. But he suggested, against Rome, that Christ does not remain present in the host after the Lord’s Supper, and that the host can not be worshipped.

When, in the 1520’s, Luther again had to think about the liturgy.  Big differences of opinions rose to the surface inside the reforming movement. Luther turned sharply against the ideas of radical reformers, who suggested that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial meal, and that the words of institution are not meant to be taken literally. According to Luther, that would be a violation of the plain meaning of the Scriptures.  Furthermore that the concrete presence of Christ through faith would be removed.

However, his Reformed opponents wanted to clarify their position, that only Christ Himself and not the elements of bread and wine provided salvation. They were also afraid of all kinds of superstitions around the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately, attempts to reconcile the three Christian traditions ended in failure.’  (CheckLuther.com)

Even today, the Lord’s Supper has remained an important point of difference between the theology of Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed Christian traditions.  But this does not overshadow our common faith in Christ Jesus and our love for every brother and sister in Christ.  After all, Christ himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a hunted man during WW II who upheld authentic Christian principles. As a part of the German underground he was not safe to worship openly.

Bonhoeffer knew there was no other community and fellowship like that experienced within the Body of Christ. He said: “Baptism incorporates us into the unity of the Body of Christ, and the Lord’s supper fosters and sustains our fellowship and communion … in that Body”.

For a time before he was imprisoned, and during his imprisonment, Bonhoeffer was cut off from other believers, and it took a toll on him. Donald LaSuer says “Bonhoeffer’s painful discovery is instructive for us. Cut off from the nurturing fellowship of other Christians, he felt a deeper hunger for the fellowship that was no longer available to him. Like a hungry man who knows the taste of bread though he can no longer reach and break from the loaf, he knew the power of fellowship when it was painfully absent”.

When we come to Communion, we have the chance to experience a fellowship with our Saviour and with each other, a deep union that only comes when we realize the saving grace that must cover each of us.  God forbid that we take this gift of grace for granted.

And so each one of us can look to Paul, that  we should always approach the table of the Lord’s Super, honouring the presence of our Saviour in his body, his blood, and his Spirit.   For nothing is impossible for God.

It is by God’s grace, that we are loved by him, saved by him, and given life eternal by him.  It is God’s grace that sustains us every day of our lives.

May the overriding grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in calm assurance of salvation in our living Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. David Thompson.

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